Archive for the 'Cars' Category

Another reason for traffic jams

May 31st, 2005

There are several commonly acknowledged reason for traffic jams, which occur regularly. Simple congestion from having too many cars, on too few lanes, is of course the main one. Traffic accidents are another. Curious drivers are yet a third, which mainly just greatly aggravates the second kind.

There are of course the unique problems, since many things can block a road and slow traffic. But those are by definition unique and special cases, not a common reason.

This morning it finally hit me that there is another reason to traffic jams, which is very common, slows down traffic all the time, and one to which I did not assign any significance in the past. Traffic cops.

And I’m not just whining about the case where a police car stands on the side of a free flowing road, thereby causing all the people (who normally drive a little faster than the allowed maximum) to slow to a crawl.

There’s a worse problem. Very often, a short distance after some very crowded and jammed junctions, in the high-traffic hours, there is a police car. Invariably, when I pass nearby, there is a another car standing by that they pulled over for inspection, or for writing a ticket.

And this is after people are driving out of what was the “real” cause of the jam. So obviously they want to speed up a bit, and start driving. Obviously this is a good position for the traffic police for two reasons:

  1. If people speed up, they can serve them with a speeding ticket.
  2. If people still remain at crawling speed, it’s easier to spot other, (possibly fineable?) problems with the car.

The result of which is that on some days the large and annoying traffic jam ends at a certain junction, and on some days it goes on for a while further, wasting much more of everyone’s time. And always, when it doesn’t end where it should, it’s because there is a police car standing there with its lights flashing.

Giving up on that specific avenue of writing tickets would improve the road conditions for pretty much everyone. Instead, our otherwise generally hard working traffic cops, who do an important job, just make those already bad times worse, costing everyone time and money.

Very important driving tip

May 19th, 2005

Way back, when I just got my driver’s license, my father gave me one driving advice that at the time seemed pointless, silly and greatly superfluous. He said that when driving you should treat all the other cars on the road as if they are driven by madmen who are intentionally trying to kill you.

And this is in fact an excellent piece of advice. If you follow it, then you won’t be surprised if, for example, a dark green minivan with the Israeli license plate number of 47-808-28, while driving in parallel to you, will suddenly decide that it wants to occupy your own lane, and instead of signalling and waiting for a free space will just move right into it like you’re not even there.

If you follow this advice, than instead of wasting time trying to figure out what the heck is the stupid bloody drunken incompetent idiot driver thinks he’s doing, you’ll know what he’s doing (trying to kill you), and so would be able to react fast enough, by pressing strongly on the breaks and turning the car to the side of the road, in order to prevent the jerk from colliding straight into you at high speed.

Trust me, I should know. Something exactly like that happened to me this very morning on the way to work…

And no, I don’t see a problem with writing the license plate number here. I often try to be circumspect on these sort of things, and not provide identifying details. But this generally good principal doesn’t appeal to me when it comes to people who are trying to kill me. I do hope the guy will crash into a fence sometime, not because I wish him ill, but because him crashing is inevitable and at least if he hits a wall then he won’t take anyone else with him.

Ice cream trucks

May 17th, 2005

Years ago, when I was still a small kid, I remember that ice cream trucks used to drive through our street on some morning. Those big blue vans, with drawings of ice cream cones on the sides, playing that repetitive and very distinct music. In retrospect, the selection of ice creams and popsicles that was offered from their freezers wasn’t very wide, or very impressive, but it was ice cream. For a kid whose parents usually didn’t keep stocks inside the house, it was an experience. I wasn’t exactly a regular customer, and many times they passed in front of our house undisturbed, but once in a while it was fun to go out, and get something. It was also a nice opportunity to meet with some other kids living nearby.

For years now I haven’t seen any ice cream trucks. I don’t think it’s simply because I stopped paying attention, since the tune they play was (and presumably still is) loud. It was possible to hear it from inside the house then, so it should be possible now. Sadly, the acoustic blocking properties of our walls didn’t spontaneously improve.

Of course I do know that as a concept these things are still alive and well. People do report sightings of ice cream trucks. But that’s elsewhere. I just always assumed that there wasn’t enough business for them in my part of the city, so nobody bothered to spend the time driving through.

A few days ago, when parking my car after getting back from work, I noticed that the large blue van parked in front of me along the street was in fact an ice cream truck. The right shape, the right size (smaller than I remembered, but that’s very probably due to me growing up quite a bit in the passing years), and the right drawings. Actually, given that there has been some time, I find it amazing that the design stayed the same, with so little change.

It was parked on the street, but I did remember that the parking space inside one of the nearby houses did occasionally show the back of a blue van of similar size. It was never possible to see more than the back of the car from the street, at least not without especially trying (which I never had reason to) so I wasn’t sure, but later observations confirmed that this is indeed it, and it’s quite possible that this has been the same ice cream truck for a long time. We have someone who drive and operates an ice cream truck living pretty close by.

Which again raises the question of why doesn’t it go by inside our street? Is the owner not willing to cover his own street, since it’s a bit too close to home? Or are they in some way franchised or organized (I never did check on the business practices of ice cream trucks, so I have no idea) and this is just not their turf?

A more surprising incident happened two days later, as I was entering my car in the morning to drive to work. I passed next to that house, and indeed the ice cream truck was parked right there in their parking space. While I was still there, another car entered into my street. An ice cream truck. Not working, since the music was off.

Now, my street is a circular/elliptical one, with the house of the truck being near the exit, so I had a view over the street entrance. But once the van drove a few meters more, it was impossible to see it from that angle. I waited for a bit, to see if it will go through the circle and arrive to the same house. But it stopped after getting out of sight. Which probably meant it parked somewhere in the street.

So we may have not one, but two, ice cream truck owners and operators living in the same little street as I do. And I never saw any of them until recently. I guess I’m just very observant. Ahem.

Young driver

March 21st, 2005

Every time I get surprised all over again over how stupid people can get.

Suppose you’re a 45-55 years old men, driving in the evening, with your
three kids in the car. Further suppose you’re tired. Now suppose your 10
years old daughter starts to nag that she wants to drive. What would
you do?

     
  1. Stop for a short rest.
  2.  

  3. Ignore her and drive home.
  4.  

  5. Tell her to shut up and stop bothering you since you’re tired enough as is.
  6.  

  7. Agree, let her drive, and take a nap on the other seat while she’s at it.

Well, according to a news report from last week, there’s at least one
person who chose option 4. This guy let his 10 years old daughter drive
the car
, and took a nap while she was at it.

They were stopped when a police car that happened by noticed a driver
that seemed a little young. Naturally the guy had his driver’s license
revoked for a few years (no problem, his daughter can drive him), and
said that he understands that he did a very foolish and irresponsible
thing (duh!)…

Taxi service

March 13th, 2005

A friend of mine often takes a taxi ride between home and work. Both
are near a main street in his city, so many taxis cover the route,
charging a fare which is identical to the price of a bus ticket.

A few days ago, on the way back from work, the driver of the taxi
decided that instead of going all the way to drop my friend, he wants
to go in a different direction, to another city. So he stopped
mid-route, gave my friend his fare money back, and told him to get off
the cab.

My friend tried to argue, but to no avail. The driver didn’t care he
agreed to carry him, and was mid route. He didn’t care that the time
needed to drop my friend at his home station would have only been a few
minutes of driving. He decided he prefers to get better fares on an
inter-city drive, and wants to do so immediately.

He stopped at a place where another cab was parking. So he told my
friend to use the other cab, and that he won’t have any problems. And
drove off.

The other cab was standing there because the driver was eating at a
nearby stand. And was not willing to stop just in order to carry one
passenger for a short distance (Can’t fault him for that, really).

My friend did catch another cab a few minutes later, and arrived home safely, but that was some lousy experience.

Another talented driver

March 9th, 2005

I was driving in a two-lane street, in a city, a couple of hundreds
of meters before a turn into the highway. The turn to the highway is
only accessible from the right lane, and so this is the lane I was
driving in.

Another car was driving on my left. In the same speed as me, with
its front about 20-30 cm ahead of mine. And it very slightly and
very slowly veered to the right. At first I thought the driver was just
not paying attention, and since the lane was wider than my car I moved
slightly to the right myself, in order to give it room. But as we
drove, the car kept getting more and more to the right, pushing nearly
into my car.
This was all going on for some distance, and not at a high speed.

Eventually, when I noticed I was bordering on getting out of the
lane myself, I realized that the other driver was actually wanting to
change lanes, into mine. Without signalling. When they knew I was
there. They could have accelerated
to get in front of me, or slowed down a bit to get behind me, but no,
they had to start veering to the right directly into my car.

I’m not in the mood of crashing into another car just because the driver is a stupid jerk inexperienced, so I slowed down a bit, and let it get in front of me. All that without any signalling from that car.

We turned into the highway, and the single turning lane joined the
two-lane highway. The car in front of me, with the driver who was so insistent on
violently pushing me off, drove at a speed of about 15 km/h bellow the
speed limit (which makes it about 20-25 km/h below the average driving
speed at that road, but that’s another problem).

I didn’t spend too much time on being surprised as to why they
didn’t just slow down before, but rather waited until the highway to
turn into a turtle, and just decided to overtake.

I turned to the left (faster) lane, while signalling of course, and
accelerated. I took a short peek at the other car and noticed that the
driver was a 30-something years old women, busy talking loudly (I
assume that it was loudly due to the vigorous hand gestures) to a man
on the seat next to her.

As I moved forward I took another look at the rear-view mirror, and
noticed that she also didn’t turn on the car’s lights. Which is
required by law. Worse, which is just a very good idea when things are
cloudy and visibility isn’t good, like it was at the time.

I sped on, and forgot all about it. Until about 3 minutes later…
Guess who came blazing from behind, at a very high speed, overtaking
other cars like a madwoman? That’s right, the selfsame driver in the
selfsame car. And still without the lights…

Good driving hours

February 24th, 2005

Whatever complaints I may have about traffic density and the
prevalence of traffic jams, which are usually big and highly annoying
problems, none of it is relevant at around 03:00 (That’s AM).
Just drove back home after meeting with a friend, and all the roads
were totally free. There were a few cars here and there, but they were
an exception.

These are the only times when I can come close to realizing why some people think driving is fun.

I can safely conclude that I think driving conditions would be much
improved if far fewer driver’s licenses were issued, just as long as I
was in the limited group that got them…

Not Allowed to Pass

January 23rd, 2005

On the same perambulations with a friend in the previous post, we also walked along the promenade at the beach. We discovered there’s a part of the promenade to the north of what we always considered it’s end. It looks rather new, and some parts are still under construction, so possibly it really wasn’t there a while ago and it wasn’t just years during which we managed to miss the whole area.

In any case, along one stretch of the walk there was a car driving towards us in the other direction. So we moved to the side of the road (which was bricked like a sidewalk, not covered is concrete or asphalt like a road for cars) and let it pass. And noticed a large sign ahead of us, roughly translated as "Passing beyond this point is not allowed for either vehicles or pedestrians". Mind you, the car came from beyond this sign…

We decided to take our lead from the car, and went walking forward, past the sign. There was no matching sign on the other side, but instead a sign for cars marking that it’s a joint pedestrian-vehicle road, and the speed limit is 25KPH. Very consistent… It also wasn’t marked as a one way street (Not that I’ve heard of one-way roads for pedestrians)

As a side note, along the same secluded stretch of beach there was something else that I didn’t personally encounter before. A beach area specifically for the Jewish religious community. It was walled from all sides, and a sign near the entrance specified the division into days in which only men are allowed into the beach, and days in which only women are allowed into the beach…

External Driving Cues

January 4th, 2005

When standing first in line at a traffic light, most drivers just look at the light, waiting until it turns from red to green. Once it’s green, and preferably after making sure that the intersection is indeed clear, they can start driving.

When standing behind someone at a traffic light, drivers usually wait until the car ahead of them moves, and then start to drive. Preferably they should also check the traffic light to make sure the driver ahead isn’t just rushing in when they shouldn’t.

My brother once stood second in line, and decided to only look at the traffic light. The light turned green, so he started driving. The car ahead of him should have, but didn’t. The rest you can guess.

Today I saw someone do the reverse, in a very odd way. The car was first in line, and the traffic light was red. Cars from the crossing lane (perpendicular to the one the aforementioned car was in) started to drive. The driver noticed that cars in front of him were moving, never mind that they were moving across him and not in his direction, and started to drive straight into the occupied intersection.

Luckily he noticed what he was doing right before crashing into someone, and stopped.

Red Traffic Lights

December 30th, 2004

While I was driving to work the announcer on the radio complained that she saw no less than three people entering into an intersection while the red traffic light was on. All this on her way to work, earlier this morning. She asked people to drive more carefully, and lamented that stopping at a red traffic light should be elementary and basic.

About a minute after that, I reached an intersection, and the greed light was fading. So I slowed down and stopped just as the light switched. The light turned red. And shortly afterward there came another car, passing me over and crossing, in red.

<Sigh>

External Airbags ?!

December 16th, 2004

I originally saw an article about an actual major car manufacturer announcing they’ll install these sort of things, but I can’t seem to locate that link. So here’s a link to an announcement by someone that wants to make these external airbags.

I assume people must have run calculations, simulations, and tests, before going on with these things. Try as I may, however, I just can’t see how this would have a practical benefit.

The idea behind this is to open an airbag outside the car, so that if the car hits a person, the person will collide with the airbag. Like an internal airbag, but for the pedestrians. This is supposed to make for a softer impact, and reduce injury and risk of death from the collision.

But the cases are totally different. For a driver inside a car, that collides into something hard, the logic is simple. The car stops, the driver still has momentum so they will continue to move forward, and so collide with the wheel/windshield/whatever inside the car. So an airbag pops out, and the driver makes the collision with something soft, that gives a little under the pressure of the collision, thereby dissipating the driver’s kinetic energy over a longer time period. This results in the driver being less squashed and broken.

But for someone on the outside?!

First of all the car can’t detect the collision before the collision occurred (Special precognition chips? Surely if someone had those the first use wouldn’t have been for airbags…). This means that anything that would happen, would do so once the pedestrian was already partially hit, and pushed backwards.

If the airbag should touch the pedestrian directly, against the leg that hit the car’s front bumper, it must move faster than the car does. It may be softer, but it can’t stretch the total contact duration to more than it was without applying more force. If contact is to be with the bag and not the bumper, it must move faster, and keep moving faster.

This should result in the pedestrian being hit harder. So the leg will break more seriously, or they will fly backward faster and brake more bones on the road/sidewalk.

After all, if it could work for a car hitting a person, it should work just as well for a car hitting a car. Anyone manages to imagine to cars crashing headlong, spurting airbags at each other, and coming out less damaged as a result? Anyone manages to do that without bursting out in laughter? If so, start working on it, every car owner will want one installed to protect their cars from accidents… Darn, actually that could work… I should write a patent.

Or maybe it’s to prevent the initial head injury, then? When the bumper hits the leg, and the car keeps moving at a fast speed, the pedestrian will effectively tilt, until their upper body will collide with the front windshield or the engine hood.

This could be it, to some level. The damage here can be more dangerous. And the airbag actually has some time to deploy before coming in contact with the pedestrian. But from what I understand, the bag either comes out from near the bumper, or the car’s hood opens with an airbag popping out of it.

From the bumper, it again doesn’t quite feels right. The airbag comes from the point of impact, going up, while the pedestrian’s upper body goes along the car. It means that the person will not crash into the bag, but rather the bag will scrape them from the knees up and push them out. It may be better than impact on the car, but it can also be much worse. The person will again fly off of the car at a higher speed than they would have originally, only they will start the process being thoroughly bruised.

The hood springing open with an airbag beneath it can work. It’s closest to the original airbag scenario, which is proven as (mostly) working every day. I’m just not sure about the speed ranges in which it’s applicable. Popping and filling a bag at a high speed can be done. Popping a large metal plate at an extremely high speed is more problematical. And if it’s not very very fast, the poor person will get banged by the hood as it opens. They’ll get the original impact force concentrated on a smaller area (the point of impact with the hood’s edge), meaning more damage. And in addition they’ll get the damage from a metal plate going fast in a different direction. All that before the bag comes along and pushes them away.

I don’t know. Maybe my kinematic first impressions are wrong. If it can be done for certain speeds and reaction times, maybe it can be done for all of them. I’m still very uncomfortable with the idea. If a car hit me, I’d prefer it if it didn’t go on to continue attacking me further. It would be bad enough as it was.

Make More Free Parking

December 14th, 2004

The rising supply of restaurants, combined with their tendency to congregate, causes a
problem. Parking places get added in a pace that doesn’t match.

More and more people find their way to the same general areas on evenings (OK, the problem
is usually only on weekends), with their cars (There’s hardly any public transportation
after around 22:00, and public transportation isn’t that hot even on peak hours).

The only people that seem to notice are those who charge for parking. This is a good
business. Over time free parking areas are purchased from the municipalities and converted
to payment parking lots. And people pay money to park there.

What nobody seems to notice is that overall it’s bad for business. True, if you want to go
someplace specific, and there’s no free parking available, you’d get into the lot and pay.
But that’s not necessarily the usual case.
This complaint/suggestion is mostly relevant for areas that contain a concentration of restaurants, or
other places that attract people for social meetings.

Normally the procedure is not one where someone decides they want to go eat at place X, and
then try to get company. It’s that someone wants to meet with person Y (or more), and wants
a place to do it at.

Since you meet, you have to meet someplace. If you go out (Doesn’t happen much with some
people, but those are not relevant for this discussion) you need to go someplace, and
usually that would include food/drink/something-of-the-sort.

Obviously the decision on where to meet depends on the possible places. But since most such
places to tend to clump together in specific areas, on many cases the question isn’t a "Let’s go to X" one in which X is the name of an establishment. If many cases it’s the decision of what area to go to, and the specific X is selected only once you’re already there.

Why prefer one area over another?
Notice, I’m not talking about what X can do to make X more attractive to customers, I assume X either does this anyway, or X is a very transient thing and doesn’t matter.

One reason is the selection of establishments in each area. There’s nothing much an owner of X can do about that to get more clients. If X could encourage other attractive places in the area, this would bring more clients overall, but they won’t necessarily go to X. The same apply in the other direction, removing competition makes the overall area less attractive, since only people that originally wanted to go to X will come.

Another reason is specific tastes. If someone desires a certain type of food or entertainment, the preference would go to the areas providing more of these. Nothing much to do here either, for similar reasons.

Another one is variety. Someone that likes familiar things will stick to the same area. Someone that likes to diversify would check their less popular areas occasionally. Nothing (much) to do about the former, but the later are a specific case of the general problem, either how to make them go to X’s area, or how to make them stick to X’s area despite it being familiar.

Another is ease of getting to the area. This includes nearness to the starting point (homes or offices) which X can do nothing about. But this also includes parking. And that’s something that X can do something about.

Does parking matter? Yes, very much. It matters on two separate levels.

The first level is for the one-time visit.
Let’s assume that people who already drove to the area, and are synchronizing the meeting with other people, will not leave but stick to the same area.
If there’s easy and free parking, the people will get someplace, maybe X, do what they want to do, and buy what they want to buy.

If the parking costs money, some people will consider that as a cost to be taken out of the budget for the evening. If the parking was cheap, it’s not a real issue. If not, it can even go as far as create an attitude of "How much more could I spend on one evening for one meeting? This is too expensive". Resulting in them buying less. If they go to X, they may order cheaper courses than they would have ordered otherwise. Or skip dessert, or the extra drink. This is bad for X.

If parking doesn’t cost money, but is hard to find, the effects can be similar. Instead of getting near X and parking, people drive further and waste time driving over and over in the area looking for an empty spot. They will get to X annoyed, and in a sour mood (or at least somewhat less happy than they would have otherwise). It can go either way, since they may order more to cheer up, or order less since they’re pissed off.
The stronger effect would probably be to the order less direction. If there’s a time-limit, they’d get there sooner, so may skip the latest purchases. The time wasted can be considered in similar terms to money paid for parking. And they may arrive in a bad attitude thinking about the effort they’ve already made to arrive to X, so X should better be worth it, meaning that X will suffer due to the increased expectations.

The second level, and the more serious one, is what happens next time (and all the times after it, of course).

Overall prices tend to roughly even out for similar places, so establishments on the same business as X in other areas will charge similar prices. The exact offers, food, drinks, and such would also be roughly similar.
So when deciding on which area to go and look for places to hang out, someplace that would offer the same things with less cost would be better. Between two similar areas, with similar establishments, one where free parking is available, and one where parking needs to be paid for, the choice will become obvious.

It won’t happen overnight. Variety and habits have a strong role. But it will happen.

Except for those rare cases where X is specifically sought after, people will go where they don’t need to pay for more than what they wanted to buy. And where they don’t need to work hard and waste time for it.

It makes a lot of sense, both common and economic.

In addition that, it also seems to match actual facts from the real world. On a busy evening, areas with free parking have more cars than the paid parking lots do.
This not only goes for two lots one next to the other, this works across city boundaries. Amount of cars per parking-spaces where parking is free is higher before the peak times. And there’s more movement, since people don’t feel that they wasted their parking money if they go away someplace else once they’re done. Overall there are more people around in areas where parking is free.

So providing more free parking places will get more people before the rush hours. At the maximum peak this effect is smaller, since people may prefer to pay instead of wasting time searching for a place to park. And since people know that there’s room at the paid parking lots.
Notice, this is because there’s room at the paid parking lots after the free places get crowded. People prefer to park for free. And they therefore spend their money in areas that provides this free parking, since that where they are.

In addition to that, on the really busy times, weekend evenings, some parking places manage to get filled regardless. If there’s no parking at all, people will go elsewhere. If they can’t get into X’s area, then X won’t have them as customers. So more parking places overall is anyway a good idea, free or paid.

Personally, not that I’m representative or anything, but if I observe where is it that I spend most of my meetings-with-friends time, and what causes me to move to other areas, parking is a major issue.

There are a few areas I’m not longer getting to, despite some really nice restaurants there, since I refuse to go around 30 minutes in my car hoping to squeeze into a tight parking space.
There’s another area I don’t get to since it’s impossible to park there for free.

As long as there are alternatives, these places just lose me, my friends, and likely a lot of other people.

If for some crazy reason the trend will continue in the direction of not providing more parking, but taking payment for previously free spaces, we’ll go more to the areas with cheaper parking, or those where search times are lower. Or meet at one of our homes instead.

To conclude, what can X (be X a restaurant, pub, coffee shop, or anything of the sort) do to get more customers?
Help build parking lots, and help make them free.
It’s worth it for businesses in an area to pay for the creation of parking lots. And to pay for those to not charge customers.